The Terrifying Phenomenon of 

Spaghettification

We’ve all heard about black holes: colossal dead stars floating in deep space, thousands of light-years away. We’ve also heard about their immense, powerful gravitational fields that swallow up anything unfortunate enough to drift by. 

 

But what actually happens when you enter a black hole? 

 

          Spaghettification, or the noodle effect, would occur. As Wikipedia puts it, spaghettification is “the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long thin shapes (rather like spaghetti) in a very strong non-homogeneous gravitational field”. When the gravitational field strength is incredibly strong, like ones near black holes, the stretching effect becomes so great that objects are literally pulled apart.

           Once an object, say, a ill-fated astronaut, crosses the event horizon, they will drift towards the centre of the black hole. Because the field strength is so strong, as the object drifts closer to the singularity, the difference in gravitational force, even within a minute distance, is millions of newtons. This means that if the poor astronaut fell in feet first, the stretching force felt at the feet would be hundreds of times stronger than the force felt at the head; their feet would accelerate towards the singularity at a much greater rate than their head, which creates this stretching effect. It would begin slowly, but as the astronaut gets pulled in closer and closer to the centre, the spaghettification becomes severe. Once it is a large enough force, the object would be ripped at their weakest points, again, and again, and again, until it is nothing more than strands of disconnected atoms.

What is an event horizon?

An event horizon is a region around a black hole where the gravitational effect begins to be felt. To escape it, an object has to be moving faster than the speed of light; in other words, it is impossible. This is why black holes appear, well, black: light cannot escape it.

What is a singularity?

At the centre of the black hole exists ‘the singularity’. No one really knows what it is, but physicists have hypothesized that it is a particle of infinite density - meaning all of its mass is concentrated into a single point in space.

spaghetti.jpg

          The thought of being doomed to a death where your organs are shredded by an inescapable cosmic force is horrifying. But the important question is: would spaghettification hurt? According to users on Quora, it wouldn't. In theory, for supermassive black holes, your body would get stretched so quickly that the electrical impulses wouldn’t have time to convey pain signals to their brain. I'm not certain whether that's more comforting or terrifying, but as William Harris of How Stuff Works puts it: “It's not a great way to die, but there's one consolation: In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Written by Sonam Okuda, a Y12 student at BPS

Bibliography

Kurzgesagt (2015). Black Holes Explained - From Birth to Death. YouTube, Kurzgesagt.  [accessed Nov 2019, online]. Available:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-P5IFTqB98

Cowern, D. (2017). SLOW MOTION SCIENCE! Ferrofluid dropping on magnet. YouTube, Physics Girl. [accessed Nov 2019, online]. Available:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04v4qWVtdPs

Various (2019). Spaghettification. Wikipedia. [accessed Nov 2019, online]. Available:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghettification

Harris, W. (2011). What if you fell into a black hole?. How Stuff Works. [accessed Nov 2019, online] Available:

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/what-if/what-if-fell-into-black-hole1.htm